Question: I don't mind riding in cold weather, but I can't keep my face warm. Shoe covers work for my feet and heavy gloves keep my hands toasty. But my chin and cheeks freeze. I wear a "skull cap" under my helmet. Any ideas? — Barry M.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: You need more than a skull cap, Barry. You need a balaclava – one of the handiest pieces of cycling apparel you can own if you live in a place with real winters.
A balaclava is a cover that fits snugly over your head and neck with a cutout for your face. A good one for cycling will be long enough for plenty of overlap with your turtleneck or other base layer so there's a tight seal against drafts. See the photo, an Assos model.
The best balaclava material is one that wicks moisture from your skin to keep it drier and warmer. Good choices are polypropylene, Thermax or other high-tech synthetics.
The fabric should be thin enough so your helmet will fit without removing pads or changing their size. A balaclava doesn't need to be very thick to keep you warm. In fact, a thick one (like some wool or fleece versions) is likely to cause overheating. Excess heat needs to radiate to prevent a sweaty head.
If your face is cold, you can pull the balaclava up to just below your lower lip, covering your chin. Or raise it more to cover your mouth, or even your nose and cheeks so only your eyes are uncovered. Breathing through the fabric helps warm the air going into your lungs.
If it's not quite so cold, keep the balaclava under your chin. It'll still seal around your face to protect your neck and keep your ears out of the wind.
If spring arrives in the middle of a ride, roll the lower part of the balaclava up to turn it into a skull cap under your helmet. Or pull it off and tuck it in a pocket.
Balaclavas aren't expensive, but they're priceless for the comfort they provide on winter rides. You can get one in bike shops, winter sports or outdoor stores, or online.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred's full bio.